The beef tartare on the menu at Next Door. Picture / Babiche Martens

Restaurant Review: Next Door, Parnell

Jesse Mulligan pops next door with special guests for fancy bistro fare

Cuisine: Modern bistro
Phone: (09) 600 1333
Address: 8 George St, Parnell
Drink: Fully licensed
Reservations: Accepted
From the menu: Beef tartare $23, Crayfish tortellini $26, Beetroot textures $17, Banh mi $28, Chicken roulade $30, Boned lamb rack $36, Dessert platter $45
Rating: 7.5/10

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I had a different sort of dinner at Next Door, a new restaurant in a brick building in a suburb called Parnell.

Usually I arrive at a restaurant with my eyes peeled, pen in hand, ready to dissect raviolo, sniff riesling and inspect pot plants, all in the pursuit of a thorough and unexpurgated analysis of what has gone right and wrong.

My friends know the deal. They get a free meal but they’re not really allowed to enjoy it on their own terms.

“Would the table like still or sparkling?”

“TAP,” I’ll demand, before anybody has a chance to express a preference.

“Are you ready to order?”

“HE’LL HAVE THE RISOTTO,” I’ll instruct sharply, then order him a rosé he didn’t want either.

My regular dining partners know that even the food I’ve chosen for them is not truly their own.

The bar area at restaurant Next Door. Picture / Babiche Martens

“Pass me that prawn,” I’ll say, through a mouthful of terrine. “Make sure you put some sauce on it.”

It’s enjoyable in its own way I’m sure, but it possibly takes the magic out of an evening.

“Just do what he says and don’t complain,” I heard Josh say to a Viva review first-timer as we left the office for a meal recently. “Don’t make a fuss and ruin it for the rest of us.”

But my dinner at Next Door was no ordinary review. I had donated it as a prize for a school fundraiser, “Dinner with Viva restaurant critic Jesse Mulligan”, and one generous couple had won it with a four-figure bid.

Though they were really putting their money towards the construction of a school music room, there was a sense I owed them $1400 worth of fun.

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As it was a special occasion I took them to dinner in an Uber. I’ve got lucky before and been picked up by a Mercedes but tonight our chariot was to be a Nissan Tiida.

“Thank you so much for coming out tonight,” I said to them as we travelled down Khyber Pass.

“You’re welcome sir,” said Munish, the driver.

Next Door is in the space that used to be Tribeca, a generally excellent restaurant with a few personality flaws we need not go into here.

It’s not the space you’d probably choose for a dining room, the tables and atmosphere being dispersed over three separate areas so that even two thirds full it can feel three-quarters empty.

Flavours of banh mi on the menu at Next Door. Picture / Babiche Martens

The main dining area is a sort of annex to the main brick building and has always suffered from a certain geriatric stillness.

Next Door has gotten rid of the old rug and the funereal flower display that used to dominate the old restaurant, but they haven’t yet done enough to improve the vibe.

Adding some screening, greenery, or simply turning the lights down and the music up might be worth experimenting with to try and make this feel less like a good cafe that is experimenting with hot food.

Why do I always order the steak tartare? Who knows, some people are the same with ceviche.

There’s something about cold, excellent meat that makes you feel like you’re not at home I suppose, and the raw beef here is good, missing the supercrunch you’d get from toast points but beetroot chips are a creative substitute.

The crayfish tortellini my guests ordered looked very good. But you don’t pay that much money to have somebody else steal your food so I responded with my own form of generosity and opted to leave their meals unmolested.

The menu is long and the verbiage tempting — I would have been happy throwing a dart at it and ordering whatever it hit.

Interior of new Parnell restaurant Next Door. Picture / Babiche Martens

Though there is a suitable amount of cheffy fanciness, this is classic bistro fare, relying heavily on tasty fats and the Maillard reaction — that caramelised flavour you get when heat kisses meat.

The beer list is great and the wine list is good. We started with a bottle of champagne then worked our way through the list, just me and the happy couple, the way I socialised for most of my 30s until I too tricked a woman into marrying me.

My main was a superb idea, a deconstructed banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) with perfectly cooked pork belly, a chicken parfait, pickled carrots, crackling and a sriracha mayo.

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It needed some veg and, this is a great hack, we ordered the beetroot textures — with orange, gorgonzola, candied walnuts and balsamic flakes — which is listed as an entree but you can get it as a side if you ask nicely.

The service is warm and knowledgeable, careful and precise. We got such good treatment that I wondered if I’d been spotted as a reviewer but it turns out they’re just like that with everybody.

The only reservation I have is that it still has a bit of that awkward non-ambience of the old place — as the three of us piled into our Ford Focus I concluded that this is food best enjoyed with a bit of revelry and, if they can sort that out, they’ll be on to a winner.

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